In a country that limits speed to 120 km/h even on motorways, it’s surprising to find a busy market for automobiles that seem to move faster than their shadows when the accelerator is floored. So what is the attraction of fast cars? Is it all Freudian? Or is anthropology the better science to analyse the phenomenon? To begin exploring the subject, Swiss Style met with Stephan Altrichter, CEO of Porsche Switzerland.
The broader and more diffuse the world, the greater the need for tribes and communities. This truism tends to shape society, and, driven by the smoke and mirrors of a vigorous advertising industry, is also shaping consumer habits. Ideals, intellectual exercise, spiritual pursuits and even coveted such dichotomous feelings as raw individualism and the longing for family can be condensed into single products whose original raison d’être no longer really matters.
This fascinating alchemy – you become what you buy in the eyes of those around you – is the basis of many industries but most notably the luxury segment. And it is what permitted the car manufacturer Porsche to increase its sales even in times of cold-blooded retrenchment.
How this happened tells a great deal about human beings: “It is the community we created, the so-called Porsche family, like the Facebook family,” says Stephan Altrichter, CEO of Porsche Switzerland, “so if you own a Porsche, you are a part of the family.”
And family takes care of family and even creates a magnetism to adopt members from the ranks of the less fortunate who are looking for a friendly community to take them in. There is a fee, of course. In the past years, Porsche has even built vehicles like the Cayenne and the Panamera that are adapted to those who, after sowing their wild oats in two-seaters with enough cargo room for a weekend in a warm location, are now in need of something able to carry the offspring as well. The point is: the facilitator is the car itself and the experience revolving around it. “We eat, ski, drive, live with our customers,” says Altrichter congenially.
To further enhance the feeling of belonging, the brand makes sure that customers are invited to various driving escapades like the Porsche Sports Cup Suisse or the Magny-Cours in France, where Porsche drivers can network with their likes, talk about new technologies, older models and the newer ones, and generally live the brand.
The bigger picture
Stephan Altrichter took over Porsche Switzerland in May 2010, coming from the retail segment in cosmopolitan Berlin. His new bailiwick is no less interesting from a cultural standpoint, with not only three linguistic groups to handle – each with its own particularities and habits – but also a large contingent of people from abroad. The way to approach this market is by looking at it as one says Altrichter. The mother company, which took over the importing of the cars from AMAG (Automobil- und Motoren AG) in 2008, gives the 12 Swiss Porsche retailers, including AMAG, and 11 service centres lots of free reign, while offering support with training, sales, and service and promotion.
Small Switzerland is a particularly important market for the brand due in part to high wages and the presence of many high-net-worth individuals and, perhaps too, because of the greater acceptance of luxury. After all, this is where seven-figure watches are manufactured and sold, as well as ultimate chocolate. Not surprisingly, the concentration of Porsches is high as well: 27,000 of them are charging down the highways and byways and streets and avenues of the country.
For Altrichter, however, there is no resting on laurels. The business is tough and if Porsche would like to increase its share of the market, particularly in the Cayenne class, where it is trailing BMW at the No. 1 spot, it will have to keep its sensors on the emotional pulse of existing and potential customers. “The questions we have to ask are, do we have the right promotion, are we communicating the right feeling, are we giving them the right experience, did we create the right community?” Altrichter wonders. And he also points to the power of service and guarantee packages, which have to be adapted to each individual market. The Swiss, for instance, are the most security-conscious consumers, spending up to CHF 8,000 a year on insurance.
Ultimately, however, it is the product itself that must adapt and this involves several unknowns and assumables. For while Altrichter insists on the fun factor, if oil prices continue to rise and governments start becoming serious about reducing emissions and limiting horsepower, manufacturers like Porsche could find themselves on the wrong end of the PR stick. Not surprisingly, the company has been shifting gears with its new Panamera S Hybrid that features an exceptionally low carbon tyre track, just 159 g/km CO2, and the “lowest fuel consumption in its class,” 6.8 l/100 km NEDC in spite of a massive 380 horsepower engine that will yank the vehicle to 100 km/h in six seconds and then push it up to a mythical 270 km/h. The results were achieved with several engineering feats, from specially developed Michelin low-resistance, all-season tyres, to a system involving amongst others switching off the power train at speeds of up to 165 km/h. In electrical mode, the car will move up to 85 km/h and for a distance of two kilometres.
Article by John Béguin